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View topic - Unreleased Tiertex game? (Sonic Edusoft)

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Post Posted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 9:04 pm
At a certain point you get a "well done" screen, but you can keep on playing; as far as I know there is no real ending, I guess the star counter will even overflow eventually.

If the timed Youtube link doesn't work (it often doesn't), go to 15:15 by hand.
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Post Posted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 9:29 pm
Thanks Tom, that helps me much. Maybe I forgot a level at some point.
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Post Posted: Wed May 21, 2014 5:34 pm
Time to speak up about this, I think.

I mentioned above that I sent information to a Japanese Sonic fan site ‘about 10 years ago’. Of course, it’s even a while longer ago now but that, in addition to what I wrote here being my only ever comments on the topic I guess either someone did take note of that information after all, or other people involved in the project have spoken up, leaked and wrote info, etc, which wouldn’t surprise me.

A couple of years ago I contacted the author of an article on games asylum (as I new account I can't post the link). I thought it was a well written article but it contained a lot of errors and I could see how some of these things came to be. This was probably the first time I outed myself on this topic. I pointed out some inaccuracies in the article and said that if he wanted to I would write the whole story up and let him have it. While he did appear to express his interest I couldn’t tell if it was really genuine – he didn’t update some of the errors in his article and I haven’t heard from him since. To be fair, he hasn’t heard any more from me either but again, that’s because I wasn’t sure of his interest.

Either way, his article is a great example of the end result of a few comments on threads, many not even from myself and sometimes nothing other than punditry become fact or canon. That article, while not wholly inaccurate does take a few things posted randomly on the internet and perpetuate them as fact so of course I have actually wanted to make corrections and speak up for quite a long time.

First, as people questioned why I wouldn’t tell the whole story I’ll speak to that. I was employed with Sega at the time. Sega is very particular about people speaking publically (there were several employees fired for forum posts/blogs while I was there) and while anything I might have had to say would have been about something over 20 years ago, fact is it is still about their #1 ip. As a then employee of Sega I particularly didn’t want to speak about the franchise as it has evolved over the years, which is a conversation that I still want to avoid but could easily be asked about.

Secondly, again speaking to the things that have been said, punditry, etc…I have to say some of it was spot on and well thought out. Some of it was well thought out despite not being spot on. I nearly fell of my chair when I read Maxim’s comments about why he thought it was fake…not because they were wrong, but because they were indeed very good reasons and I just had an answer to almost all of them and wouldn’t choose to respond at that time. These two in particular:

‘The helicopter and Sonic sprites would exceed the 8 sprite limit if placed side-by-side’. (Technically correct of course, but of course the other plausible explanation for that being as is, is because they perhaps aren’t sprites. At times in the game they were, at times like this they weren’t.)

‘The Sonic sprite is clearly a crappy copy+paste from a 16-bit version - it uses a purple colour that would not be accepted by any artist worth their salt. ‘

This latter comment I think would horrify the artist, Barry Armstrong. The side facing sprites were ripped from the genesis version. He was responsible for the diagonal sprites and of course he would have later modified the side by side ones to match what he had drawn, size and color. He chose the colors based on the limited palette available on the master system and probably what he thought Sega would feel was important about the ip. Had the title have been released it would have gone through many more iterations based on Sega feedback (and having worked with Sega I can tell you this would have taken months) so of course I think what it looked like back then should be viewed no different to any other early prototyping of a character. I do think Barry was worth his salt however and I have to admit I did wince a little when I read that one. He was a good artist and interestingly not an employee of Sega – he was contracted specifically to do the characters.

In addition to some of the comments I have to admit there was also some pretty good investigation went on too. I would’ve been rumbled completely if the whole ‘Why are there Winter Olympics sprites in the ROM?’ line of investigation been followed through on. Then again, maybe it was…and people chose to respect my anonymity. However that ROM came to be in the hands of whoever I don’t know, but whatever that chain looked like I can tell you I probably (with 99% certainty) made the ROM on my development kit (which I used to refer as ‘Donald’s fucking cronky thing’ due to its ‘homebrew’ status and quality differences from the official development kit) while developing the Olympics game. It was probably an occasion where I was asked to wheel Edusoft out for a demo in some vain hope it might gain traction.

I have put extensive notes together on Edusoft over the past couple of years. I haven’t released them, because I’m not happy with them. I’ve changed the format several times because of this, switching between a written essay/blog style thing to FAQ types and a mix of both. I think truthfully, to complete this…I really need to know the sort of things people want to know about this game, the development of it and how it came to be/not be.

Which is another reason I’m speaking up so feel free to ask.

Incidentally…a note on why it used stars instead of rings (another well thought out line of query/criticism that one because it probably does seem quite odd). I can’t remember who came up with the idea (it probably wasn’t me) but it was common in English primary schools to be rewarded ‘stars’ for good work, which is where the idea came from. It should indeed have been rings of course, but the reason it was not rings has to do with the timing…this was developed just after the release of the first Sonic game. Without a second Sonic game released, it’s simply not obvious which aspect of Sonic were going to be reused in the second game and become a key part of the franchise.

I apologize for my prior silence.
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Post Posted: Wed May 21, 2014 7:35 pm
Last edited by Maxim on Thu May 22, 2014 6:48 am; edited 1 time in total
You're welcome to publish your thoughts/notes/responses on this site if you wish. Or, if it's more Q&A you want, let's keep it in this thread.

I was a bit harsh about the artwork, I was looking for things that a half-assed faker might not pay attention to. The choice of palette for the Sonic sprite still seems odd, perhaps influenced by the exact shades used on the Mega Drive, or maybe to get a bit more contrast against the water. (As it happens, all four shades of blue used on the Sonic sprite are the same hue, it's not purple at all. Blame my monitor?) I would have expected the 8-bit Sonic sprites to be the base, much as Sega incrementally tweaked them between versions, but then the Mega Drive Sonic is bigger and more characterful.

The assumption that the helicopter was a sprite was of course wrong :) and burning it into the background when static is a cunning way to get around the sprite limit which not many games bother with.

I think we were happy enough that the Winter Olympics devkit was used to produce the released ROM, but maybe nobody bothered to figure out who developed Winter Olympics? It's not particularly well-regarded so maybe nobody tried to figure out who developed it (it's in the ROM in ASCII, I didn't figure out how to get it to show in-game). We may not have expected there to be such a personal relationship between developers and their ROM emulators between games :)

On to the questions, then...

On the technical side, can you explain more about your devkit? We might have thought that in the later SMS years, there'd be better/cheaper dev tools around, not a need to homebrew unofficial things. How was the rest of the toolchain, software and hardware?

On the political side, how did the game get this far without getting shut down for fear of angering Sega? Was the thought that the graphics might just be placeholders?

Why Master System? Was the thought that 5-year-olds would be likely to have a Master System, not a Mega Drive, in 1991-1992?

It seems odd to get quite so far into a game that was so speculative. How many other never-publicly-mentioned games got to the point of playability/not-completely-crashiness on such a whim? It must have cost Tiertex (or someone) a lot of money for all the time you and others spent on it.
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Post Posted: Wed May 21, 2014 11:05 pm
The mentioned article:

www.gamesasylum.com/2012/05/29/sonic%E2%80%99s-edusoft/
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Post Posted: Wed May 21, 2014 11:10 pm
Last edited by jezsherlock on Wed May 21, 2014 11:22 pm; edited 4 times in total
Maxim wrote
I was looking for things that a half-assed faker might not pay attention to.


At Tiertex I don't think anyone was too far removed from being a half-assed faker. There, one for all you haters of Tiertex games of course.

Maxim wrote
I would have expected the 8-bit Sonic sprites to be the base


Another good expectation. Development began before we had access to the SMS version of Sonic (and I think at the time we didn't even know it was on the way). While it was completed after that had been released (IIRC) by that time the ripping of the genesis sprites had been done. I also don't think (unlike the Megadrive) we had a good option for ripping SMS sprites and this would be somewhat due to the homebrew development kit capability. We would have had to create isometric versions still anyway even if we did that. We simply wouldn't have been motivated to pinch those sprites for all these reasons.

Maxim wrote
It's not particularly well-regarded (Winter Olympics)


Ouch! Or 'yeah, I know'. Always kind of liked certain aspects of it myself but then again Winter Olympics probably came about in the manner it did due to the fact the only plan when it was started up was for it to be a 3D polygon game. There had been little thought into whether that was possible on all the platforms (even though that is kind of obvious) and if not, what would be done as an alternative. Likely that alternative being more or less made up as we went along in the first few months is probably the reason it came to be as it was and why many people don't like it.

Maxim wrote
On the technical side, can you explain more about your devkit? We might have thought that in the later SMS years, there'd be better/cheaper dev tools around, not a need to homebrew unofficial things. How was the rest of the toolchain, software and hardware?


I never got to use the official development kit. There were some of those lying around but access to them appeared to be almost based on seniority and everyone else got the homebrew version, which existed because (a) it was cheaper/worked well enough and (b) one of the co-owners of Tiertex was an electronics nut. Thus there was probably a 'hobby' style influence on the idea of doing this, but also the 'well these are expensive there's no need to spend when I can make one' mentality.

The electronics nut, Donald - I remember being in his office once when he'd just got the same sort of system to work on a SNES and said 'well, that's another dev kit pioneered', something I remember due to his voice (it was a bit squeaky and there were a lot of office jokes about this). This was seriously his thing and as I understand it Tiertex exists today still but as an entity where the same person tools around with electronics projects and sells them. The SNES kit I don't think was ever used though - it wasn't as reliable as what he'd done for other platforms…the hardware was of course getting more complex. Anyway...back to SMS...

His SMS version though was kind of a cartridge emulator. Everything was piped down a cable to that from a regular DOS PC and I think the Z80 was hijacked in order to get the rudimentary debugging functionality. Basically it was a Master System bought from the store, opened up, a pcb hacked in via the Z80 slot and a cartridge emulator.

The software side of it was pretty much a command line tool, as you might expect for the day and a homebrew assembler. It looked and functioned very much like the one for the official development kit (which unlike the homebrew one I think was itself an 'in circuit emulator'). The difference was however that this version could be a little flaky. It was good enough however. You got used to its flaws and many games were developed on it so it was quite a successful endeavour really, although of course none of this prevented frequent whining or complaints about it.

Maxim wrote
On the political side, how did the game get this far without getting shut down for fear of angering Sega?


This is probably a good point of confusion in the whole ‘how official was it, was it licensed?’ topic that probably needs quite a lot of explanation. I’ll start by pointing out though that we never feared this because it wasn’t done without Sega knowing. In fact, Sega were shown the product, tracked its progress and as I understand it were okay with what was going on.

The idea of licensing is two things…you are a licensed developer and the project is licensed for publishing. A licensed developer can buy development hardware, but often according to the license you can only use the hardware for approved projects so Sega always knew what you were up to. The reality of course however is that all sorts of unapproved projects were developed all over the world – if not, original games and ideas would’ve struggled to have been prototyped on some platforms, which means there would've been nothing to 'pitch' to potential publishers. Developers did do things with those development kits that were unapproved then.

That really wasn't us however...we were either 'approved' or 'allowed' (and I'm not sure which word would be best there) we just never came to a point of the project being given the greenlight for publishing and having that 'licensed by Sega' type message on the front. But as explained, it not being licensed doesn't mean what people might think - it was about as official as it can get for the stage it was taken too.

Obviously this was no ordinary project though, given we were toying with Sonic. Really, the permission to do this was no doubt due to the influence of US Gold and the founder there Geoff Brown. If anything this project was his idea and his baby and he was the one who convinced Sega to let him do this with a developer.

I think the idea Sonic was involved just adds the mystery of the status though. That may have required additional licensing beyond the platform. I say may, because there's yet another mystery...was this a Sega game or a US Gold one. Under different scenarios it was possibly going to end up as either and from time to time it was put to me as either, or both (like a joint deal).

One thing I can conclusively say though...while a lot was up in the air this certainly wasn't a case of a developer, or even a developer/publisher just saying 'we're going to do a Sonic game behind Sega's back'. Sega knew, Sega were to some extent involved.

It certainly has a different status to a fan game. I dare say it was also the first Sonic development ever to take place outside of the Sonic team too.

Maxim wrote
Was the thought that the graphics might just be placeholders?


Yes and no. I'm sure quite a lot would've been replaced had it have been licensed (for the platform). We'd have also had to have gone through Sonic team review and approval and as a former employee of Sega I can tell you that can be frustrating for any 3rd party - IMHO 3rd party developers are 'made to jump through hoops' on purpose and not with all the good will that should be given.

Probably the whole game would've been gutted as a result but back then I wouldn't have been aware of this potential hurdle. One could argue that in not finishing it, anyone involved 'got off lightly'.

Maxim wrote
Why Master System? Was the thought that 5-year-olds would be likely to have a Master System, not a Mega Drive, in 1991-1992?


Publishers have strange thoughts that the younger kids always have the cheaper platform. It's not always right, but they do do their research and have their reasoning. I would also guess (and things along these lines were said) that Geoff thought both that Sonic wasn't on SMS when we started (i.e. he saw a place to put it that Sega would go for) and perhaps Sega wouldn't want an education title on the Mega Drive - reasons of image (after all...there's something 'not cool' about this sort of software on consoles today). So the SMS might have been a good choice - it all ties together 'SMS is for kids, Sega won't go for MD, etc'. Publishers can have very fixed lines of thinking and have made their mind up on some things from the start.

I've also had a theory (never proven) that a lot of this was really to do with the Sega Pico and while of course that was different hardware, Sega were happy with us developing it so they could pretty much stand by and watch the 'R&D' and Geoff also might have had some deal with that platform in mind too.

Maxim wrote
It seems odd to get quite so far into a game that was so speculative. How many other never-publicly-mentioned games got to the point of playability/not-completely-crashiness on such a whim? It must have cost Tiertex (or someone) a lot of money for all the time you and others spent on it.


Publishers are optimists. They generally don't start something with the idea of it not working out and even if they realize there are risks, these businessmen think they can get around them - that they're savvy enough to face all these challenges and so on. Of course the reality is quite different, but it's important to understand that this wasn't speculative, it just appears that way retroactively.

Seriously this wasn't such a whimsical project. At the time, the belief was that this was a new thing and it was going to get that license and be approved for not just development, but publishing.

Tiertex was work for hire though. They didn't do original projects, despite the fact that one of the founders was also very in on this idea (and if anything he takes a lot of credit for the design). It cost someone money yes and that will have been US Gold and Geoff Brown. But also understand most people at Tiertex were paid peanuts too - this probably wasn't too expensive to punt on but as I say, people didn't see this as a punt.
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Post Posted: Mon May 26, 2014 8:40 pm
I filled in a credits page for the game based on what you said - would you care to expand it? www.smspower.org/Credits/SonicsEdusoft-SMS This also shows up on the game page, so you can start to get linked up. Did you work on anything else Sega 8-bit?
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Post Posted: Tue May 27, 2014 5:40 pm
Maxim wrote
I filled in a credits page for the game based on what you said - would you care to expand it?


Sure, I'll fill in some more credits.

Maxim wrote
Did you work on anything else Sega 8-bit?


I wish. Loved that console I did.
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Post Posted: Tue May 27, 2014 7:32 pm
Well, there's still time to write a new game :) We have a coding competition every year if you want a deadline and/or incentive (glory, not money).
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Post Posted: Fri Jul 04, 2014 1:53 pm
Great read! Thank you for stopping by the forums :-)
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